Exploring Kona: A Comprehensive Guide to Big Island's Gems

Kona | Intro

In various regions of the Big Island of Hawaii, the western side, including Kona and the Kohala Coast, has a drier climate, hence it boasts the most beautiful beaches and snorkeling sanctuaries. The Kona mentioned here starts roughly at Kona town, which is where the Kona airport is located, and extends south along the western coastline. The area around Kona town has many shops and lodgings, including Costco and Target, making it the most convenient area on the Big Island. If you wish to travel north or south, or even east to Hilo, all are within day trip distance from Kona. People who love beaches and snorkeling often spend several days in Kona. Besides snorkeling and beaches, the Kona area is actually also the place with the most historical sites on the Big Island. Many of the ruins from the ancient Hawaiian kingdom are located here, so you can also allocate some time to learn about the real "Hawaiian history."

Here's a simple map for everyone showing our journey southward, so you can get an idea of the extent of the Kona region.

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Kona | Historic Attractions

Historic Kailua Village

In Kona, the old town of Kailua-Kona, which is what we refer to as Kona town, is the most bustling area. The Historic Kailua Village is located at the central point of the Kailua Bay coast, just a 15-minute drive south from Kona airport. Nearby, there are many beaches suitable for snorkeling, and a variety of sea-viewing and snorkeling tours depart from the nearby pier.

Kailua Pier

Near Kailua Pier, come evening, the biggest restaurant on the street, Gertrude’s, starts playing live music, creating a lively yet very comfortable atmosphere for a stroll along the beach (when I was there, for some reason, the genre of music being played was very similar to Taiwanese songs, momentarily giving me the illusion of being in Kenting). If you're staying nearby, don't forget to visit the old town.

Ahu'ena Heiau

The old town was originally a fishing village and also the place where King Kamehameha I of the Hawaiian Kingdom spent his final years. The name of King Kamehameha I can be seen all over the Big Island; he was the king who unified the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1810. Walking along the main road, Alii Drive, by the coast, you will see Ahu’ena Heiau. After unifying the Hawaiian Kingdom, King Kamehameha I returned to the Big Island in 1812 and lived there until his death in 1819. Thus, this seemingly simple structure, resembling a thatched hut, was actually the political center of the time.

Hulihee palace

The Hawaiian royalty after Kamehameha also favored this place. Among the bustling shops and restaurants on Alii Drive, we also come across Hulihee Palace. Originally built in 1838 as a summer vacation home for the Royal family, it now serves as a museum displaying antiques from the era of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani.

Mokuaikaua church

Across the street, Mokuaikaua Church was built in 1820. King Kamehameha II, the son of the great King Kamehameha I, granted permission to the missionaries from America to preach here, resulting in the establishment of this oldest church in Hawaii.

Kona marketplace

A few steps further south on Alii Drive, there is a shopping center called Kona Marketplace. You can stroll around here for a bit and grab a cup of Kona Coffee. Free tastings of Kona Coffee are available.

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic ParkNot far from the Kona airport is a natural history park with a short trail around the Visiter center, which is surrounded by cooled volcanic lava. At first glance, it's hard to imagine how the ancient Native Hawaiians could have survived in this terrain. In fact, it was by utilizing this magma terrain that they learned to build fish ponds (called loko). Ancient Native Hawaiians would use the natural terrain of the lava walls that flowed into the sea to build loko and fish traps to catch and raise fish, forming a way of life that coexisted with nature.

From the trail in front of the Visitor center, you can actually walk all the way to the Ala Kahakai trail to the beach to see the fishponds and the village, but the easier way is to drive to the Honokohau small boat harbor in the south, and then directly into the west trail entrance, which requires you to walk through the magma road and walk to the beach, which is also called Honokohau beach, for tourists it is a beach where you can rest and snorkel. Honokohau beach is also known as Honokohau beach, which is a resting and snorkeling beach for tourists. The wooden huts on the beach were actually used by fishing villages in the ancient times, but now they are used by us tourists to rest. In front of the beach is the Ai'Opio fishtrap, when the tide is low, the cooling magma below is a stone wall, and the fish trap encloses a lot of fish, you can catch a lot of fish by putting the net down.

Besides fish, this area is also abundant with sea turtles, making it a great spot for turtle watching.

Walking east along the beach trail on the Ala Kahakai Beach Trail, you can see the Fishpond. On one side of the trail is the vast Pacific Ocean, while on the inland side, the Fishpond looks like a large lake but is actually used for fish farming. We also took the opportunity to snorkel here, enjoying the quiet beach time.

Pu'uhonua National Historic Park

The Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is probably the most popular historical site on the Big Island. The appearance of the seaside settlements where Native Hawaiians lived before the 18th century is quite well-preserved here, making it very worthwhile to visit. The park's main areas are the Royal Grounds and Pu’uhonua (Place of Refuge). After visiting, if you're interested in snorkeling, the Two Steps beach next to the Royal Grounds is also a great spot for snorkeling.

Royal Grounds

As you walk in from the direction of the Visitor Center, the first place you reach, extending all the way to the Great Wall, is the Royal Grounds. The first impression is like arriving at an ancient village, complete with stone fishponds, checkerboards, bowl-shaped stone pits, canoe factories, and so on.

In the ancient Hawaiian island society, people were divided into three classes: the rulers (Ali’i), the clergy and experts (Kahuna), and the common people (Makaainana). The rulers were similar to royalty and were considered to have divine lineage. The middle class included the clergy and various types of experts, such as healers, shipbuilders, and blacksmiths, while the rest of the people belonged to the lower class of commoners. The tribal ruling class and clergy would come to this place to hold meetings to decide on important matters and conduct various ceremonies.

Hale o Keawe

At the boundary between the Royal Grounds and Pu’uhonua, near the northern edge of the Great Wall, there is a fenced enclosure called Hale o Keawe. This is actually a very important and sacred heiau (temple), where 23 ancient chiefs are buried, including the great-grandfather of King Kamehameha. What we see now is a replica; archaeologists believe the original structure was built around the 16th century but was destroyed in 1829. In Hawaiian culture, it is believed that the Pu’uhonua inside the wall is protected by the sacred power of Hale o Keawe.


The ancient Hawaiian society was governed by a set of laws called Kapu, which regulated how natural resources, such as fishing and agriculture, should be utilized. Those who violated these laws were usually subject to severe capital punishment. The only way for lawbreakers to escape death was to flee to a Pu’uhonua, a concept akin to a sanctuary or refuge. Pu’uhonua served not only as a haven for lawbreakers but also sheltered refugees displaced by war. This concept is rooted in Polynesian culture, and there were originally many Pu’uhonua across the Hawaiian Islands. The one here is now one of the only ones perfectly preserved.

Reaching a Pu’uhonua was no easy feat; one had to evade pursuers, scale the Great Wall, swim across the sea, and run barefoot over paths covered with cooled lava, which speaks volumes about the difficulty of the endeavor. However, if one successfully overcame these formidable challenges and entered the boundaries of the Pu’uhonua, they would be free from all disturbances. After spending some time there, undergoing purification of body and spirit by the clergy, the lawbreaker could return to society.

Kona | Beaches and Activities

The area around Kona is indeed filled with beautiful beaches, and almost anywhere you drive along the coast, you can find lovely beach parks, many of which are excellent snorkeling spots. This includes the various historical parks mentioned earlier; we actually snorkelled at the beaches next to them. Because it's impossible to detail every location, here we only record some other places we visited and particularly liked. To protect the marine ecosystem, it's important to be mindful of the sunscreen you use while snorkeling in Hawaii. There are regulations regarding sunscreen, and we made sure to purchase the correct type of sunscreen (like this one) before our trip.

Kahalu'u beach park

This is a rather famous snorkeling spot, so it tends to get very crowded; it's best to arrive early. Besides the abundance of fish, a key feature is the presence of volunteers managing the area, with complete facilities available, including showers for after snorkeling. The volunteers, in addition to promoting ecological knowledge, also enthusiastically offer anti-fog spray to us, which was incredibly thoughtful.

Magic sands beach park

We actually didn't come to this Beach Park to swim or snorkel; what did we come for? A picnic. Coming here was purely by chance, just looking for a place to eat. But the seawater here is really beautiful, with a color that's different from other beaches.

Kealakekua Bay

For snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay, we participated in the Captain Zodiac snorkeling trip. This trip involves riding in a Navy SEALs-style rigid inflatable boat, which is quite thrilling. On the way there, you can see the historical sites of Kona Old Town from the sea.

The boat journey takes about an hour one way, and if you're lucky, you might be able to see whales just like we did.

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The boat stops near the Captain Cook Monument to let us off for snorkeling, with about an hour of snorkeling time. The variety and quantity of fish we saw here were the most impressive of the entire trip, after snorkeling around seven or eight times, making it well worth the price.

The Captain Cook Monument is actually located within the Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park, so it's also possible to hike in about 3.8 miles, although the hiking trail is more challenging and much harder than taking a boat. Captain Cook was the first captain to arrive in Hawaii and is considered the discoverer of Hawaii.

After snorkeling, we returned to the boat where the captain had prepared fresh pineapple, snacks, and water for us to enjoy before setting off on the return journey. On the way back, they also took us to see Ka’awaloa Cove, which is a rather large lava tube. What we see as a cave now used to be filled with volcanic magma.

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Devil Fish Night Dive Itinerary

To see the devil fish (manta ray) is part of the night diving itinerary. The itinerary is quite simple. After gathering, you'll be given diving suits. Once you change into them, you'll board the boat. After reaching the designated spot, you'll be divided into groups and go underwater with a float board to observe the fish. The boat company will provide illumination to attract food for the manta rays. Then, large groups of manta rays will appear immediately. Up close, they are really huge, circling incessantly underwater, and sometimes accidentally bumping into us.

Kona Manta Ray Night Dive Itinerary

Further reading

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